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Second Thoughts: When Game 7's go wrong

Second Thoughts: When Game 7's go wrong
June 21, 2013
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Prior to last night, it had been sixteen years since a Miami team won a decisive Game 7 in a major championship series. If you’re hazy on the details of that prior occasion, just recall the color teal and recoil in disgust. Yes, there are worse feelings than watching a regret-free LeBron James dance around in bliss.

Back in 1997—despite being a wild card team playing against a division champion—the Florida Marlins hosted Game 7 of the World Series against your Cleveland Indians within the staggeringly uncharming confines of Pro Player Stadium in Miami. Rest assured, I have no intention of dredging up any of those specific memories you spent most of the aughts intentionally repressing. But as the record books recorded it, the Marlins triumphed 3-2 in 11 innings that night, and they were assisted in no small part by the home-field edge—last at-bats, familiar surroundings, warmer weather, and an at-least semi-interested audience of Miami sports “fans.”

It’s certainly true that home field advantage carries far more weight on the hardwood than the diamond, but if we’re already feeling bitter today anyway, might as well pour salt on the wound by recalling just how fundamentally unjust the Tribe’s two ‘90s World Series appearances were where it concerns the old and now defunct “home field rule.”

Unlike the 2013 Miami Heat, who secured their rights to host an NBA Finals Game 7 by winning their division and more regular season games than everyone else, the ’97 Marlins earned their hosting honors through what basically amounted to a coin flip of the calendar.

Up until 2003, when Major League Baseball developed the terrible idea of the All-Star Game affecting home field advantage in the World Series, they had relied on the no-less illogical rule of “alternating seasons” as the guideline for where games would be played in the Fall Classic (mainly for logistical, ticket-printing reasons, presumably). The AL team gets home-field one year, NL the next, and so on forever as the laws of justice would dictate. This system only becomes imperfect, of course, if you’re the team unlucky enough to win its pennants in the “wrong” years.

The most frustrating illustration of this was—locally, at least-- the ever-legendary 1995 campaign, when the Indians steamrolled to an MLB-best 100 wins in a strike-shortened 144 game season, only to have to travel to Seattle (winners of 21 fewer games) for the first two games of the ALCS and Atlanta (winners of 10 fewer games) to open the World Series. The Indians did not have home field advantage in one series that October, not even against the Red Sox in the divisional round.

It was, by pure luck of the draw, the AL West and the National League’s “turn” to have home field. To make matters worse, the 2-3-2 format also put the Tribe back in Fulton County Stadium for the critical Game 6 that eventually sealed their fate against the Braves. In the biggest game of the entire season, the statistically superior team was forced to visit its inferior opponent’s building. Who knows how differently Tom Glavine’s strike zone might have looked to an umpire surrounded by 40,000 Tribe fans on a 30-degree night in October.

Unfortunately, it would be two years later that Mike Hargrove’s bunch made the mistake of showing up to the dance out of turn yet again. In this case, at least, the argument could be made that the 1997 Marlins (92-70) had a superior record to Cleveland (86-75) and thus had a rightful claim to home-field anyway. As a wild card team, however, it seems unlikely that Florida would have been afforded the same rights as the Central Division Champion Indians in a system based on regular season performance, rather than randomness.

Obviously, this whole hindsight-riddled rant is mostly just another example of LeBron-inspired “what if” thinking—the sort that consumes way too much of the Cleveland sports conversation as it is, anyway. If we shift into the contemporary Cleveland Indians universe, however, this seemingly petty home field issue is not exactly one that’s been resolved.

In the not-impossible event that the 2013 Indians make a midsummer push to challenge the Tigers to the finish line in September, the difference between a division title and a wild card will still—inexplicably—carry no consequences should either team play for the World Championship. Instead, it could be a single swing by a Houston Astro during an exhibition game in July that determines whether the next big Game 7 is played where it ought to be—or on the road, in the place it shouldn’t.

User Comments

Joe Chengery
June 22, 2013 - 1:20 AM EDT
Keep in mind that if the 1994 Strike hadn't occurred, the Indians WOULD have had home field advantage in 1995 and 1997, as the American League did have the home field in odd years, National League in even years. Unfortunately, the strike changed that.

It would be nice for Cleveland teams to have the luck and breaks on their side for an extended period of time- it often seems like they're always on the wrong end of it. If things are supposed to even out in the grand scheme of things, you'd think Cleveland would be due to be on the right/lucky side of things for a while. Let's hope.
Tony
June 21, 2013 - 1:43 PM EDT
I think of all the sports, teams get a distinct advantage playing at home in baseball. You always bat last so you know what you need to win. Sure, home crowds can affect things in football and basketball, but as for the actual "game" itself, baseball is just the only one where the rules for one team are slightly different than the other team (one team bats first, one bats last).

I remember how mad I was back in 1995 when the Indians won 100 games and torched the American League.....yet did not have home field in ONE SINGLE PLAYOFF SERIES. They played the first two at home against the Red Sox and then had to go to Boston for the last three if it went that far, which it didn't since the Indians won the series 3-0. The Mariners had home field and the Braves also had home field. Insane. It would be like telling an NFL team with the best conference record they have to play two games on the road to get to the Super Bowl!
Nick
June 21, 2013 - 11:16 AM EDT
Dennis, with all due respect, that's not the case. The superior team should have the ability to play at home and the greater burden should be put on the lesser team. The system should reward the most successful teams over a 162 game season that benefit. Statistics can say it's close to even, but if you ask any team if they want to play home or away, you already know the answer.
Now with that said, I still have a hard time swallowing this All-Star game determines home field advantage. I'd rather see that their head to head record play in if they matched up directly and if not then compare their winning percentage against similar opponets. Not perfect but the most fair option in my opinion.
Dennis
June 21, 2013 - 10:44 AM EDT
While the home field argument has been bandied about for years and years.. and baseball appears to give the home team a distinct advantage by batting last (don't tell a golfer going last is better..he/she'd rather sink the putt to go ahead...putting the pressure back on their opponent to tie).. It's actually pretty even. Some time in the past it was stated, the success of a major league baseball team to win a world's championship requires surviving a brutally long endurance marathon followed by having the good fortune to out sprint your opponent to the end.

W/R to the Heat's win last night...

Congrats to LeBron & the Heat..he continues to amaze and awe..He is a true champion of champions and is still on an upward trajectory w/r to his legacy. He cemented an enduring moniker last night during the post game interview as he praised his vanquished opponent.. A man that is true to his sport, his sportsmanship, his values and presents as a CLASS CHAMPION..

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